UBC Thunderbirds surprise UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, marking first win over touring NCAA team since 2011

UNLV plays the Calgary Dinos at UBC tonight and then finishes off roadtrip by visiting the Fraser Valley Cascades on Friday.

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The UBC Thunderbirds and Lower Mainland basketball fans were both in midseason form Tuesday night.

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The T-BIrds earned a 79-72 win over the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels before what UBC is calling a sold-out crowd of 2,182 at War Memorial Gymnasium. The victory marks UBC’s first win over a visiting NCAA Div. I team since 2011 and came 88 days before their 2022-23 Canada West regular season opener.

UNLV, who finished 18-14 last season, are on a three-game B.C. tour. They play the Calgary Dinos at UBC tonight and then are at the Fraser Valley Cascades on Friday. NCAA teams are permitted a preseason foreign trip once every four years.

Fourth-year guard James Woods sparked the UBC attack with 33 points, highlighted by going 6-of-14 from three-point range. He also had four rebounds and three assists. Fifth-year forward Sukhman Sandhu added 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

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“It’s tough because it is three months away from our first conference game,” T-Birds coach Kevin Hanson was quoted as saying on the UBC web site afterwards.  “What I think it does do is give our guys a lot of belief in themselves and belief in what we’re trying to achieve. We had some special performances from some special players tonight.”

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The T-Birds were up 42-40 at halftime. They led by as many as nine in the second half, with a Woods’ three-pointer with 8:07 remaining putting them up 69-60. UNLV cut the margin to 75-72 when senior guard Justin Webster connected on a pair of free throws with 48 seconds to go. UBC turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, Webster missed a three-pointer with 26 seconds showing on the clock and then Woods drained a pair from the foul line with 21 seconds left to help secure the triumph.

UNLV was supposed to land in Vancouver on Monday afternoon, but the flight was delayed and they did not arrive here until four hours before game time. UNLV coach Kevin Kruger told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he did not think the travel issues had any bearing on the result.

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All 10 UNLV players saw action. No one had more than 25 minutes or less than 10. UBC used 10 players as well, but Woods played 39 minutes and Sukman 37.

“This is a great learning opportunity that we need to be consistent,” Kruger told the newspaper. “We have to play hard for 40 minutes.”

UBC gets back at it on Nov. 12, hosting the UNBC Timberwolves at War Memorial to kick off league play. Hanson’s squad was 19-5 last season, losing out in the Canada West playoff quarterfinals.

Their last win over a visiting NCAA team was Sept. 8, 2011, when the T-Birds beat Santa Clara 98-85 at War Memorial. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down touring NCAA Div. I teams for a time. Prior to Tuesday, UBC’s last visit came from Cal State Bakersfield on Aug. 21, 2019, and the T-Birds lost 94-88 that night.

UBC lost 90-82 to NCAA Div. II SFU at SFU last season. It was their first meeting since meeting since 2015.

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